This Walnut Babka features the most delicious buttery yeasted brioche dough that is twisted around wonderful cinnamon sugar walnut filling. Moist, fluffy, crazy delicious nutty Babka is a good idea any time of the year, particularly around the holidays.
📖 What is babka
A babka is a sweet braided bread that originated in the Jewish communities across the world like in Poland (that is why some call it Polish babka) or Hungary where I grew up. A traditional babka recipe is prepared with a yeast-leavened dough (similar or the same as challah) that is rolled out and spread with a filling such as chocolate, cinnamon, fruit, poppy seed, etc. Then, rolled up and the filling twisted inside before baking.
Making Walnut babka is really hassle-free, and easy and it is mostly about waiting for the dough to proof. You can totally make it at home even if you are a beginner baker!
Beginning in the 2010s the popularity of babka increased across the United States, especially in New York, where a popular Israeli bakery: Breads Bakery began to sell their babka that I had the pleasure to try in 2022 on my New York trip!
🌟 Why this is the best recipe
- It is super easy – No fancy ingredients are needed! Babka is literally made of flour, butter, milk, etc. The Walnut babka recipe comes together really easily, a totally doable even if you are a beginner - however please make sure you pay attention to my Baking tips
- It is not much effort, most of the time is just waiting for the dough to proof – The amount of effort making Babka is really minimal, however, you will have to rest the dough in between steps. Since Babka is a yeasted dough, you can´t really speed the process of proofing. Rest assured, the time you will spend in the kitchen itself is absolutely minimal
- It is super delicious – Imagine a delicious buttery walnut swirl in soft, pillowy brioche dough. This Walnut Babka is totally addictive! A lovely sweet bread that will equally fill your heart and body. Read my secrets below about how to make the babka not just moist but also super shiny
- No special equipment is needed – A stand mixer is super handy when it comes to kneading the Babka dough but apart from that, all you need is a loaf tin to bake, and you are good to go! Having said that, you can totally knead the dough with your hands as my Mom does
- It is super versatile – The Walnut Babka recipe can be made using different spices eg. cardamom, cinnamon, or orange zest in the dough, or you can easily replace walnut with pecan, apples, poppy seed, etc. This recipe can easily be turned into a raisin walnut babka, chocolate walnut babka or you can even leave the walnut out and make my Nutella babka recipe or my Apple Cinnamon Babka recipe instead!
📝 Ingredient notes
- Butter: Use always unsalted butter as you want to be in control of the quantity of the salt. I am using 82% fat content butter in all my recipes. In this recipe, the butter needs to be at room temperature so soft enough to be able to knead into the dough. Make sure that you avoid last minute microwaving as melted butter won´t incorporate into the dough
- Sugar: A small amount of white granulated sugar is used to make the babka dough. No need to use too much sugar as the filling will make this Babka sweet enough. If you want to learn about the different types of sugar and how to use them in baking, please read my sugar guide
- Yeast: I am using fresh yeast in this babka recipe, however, it can be made with dry yeast too. My instant dry yeast pack says that its 7 g yeast equals 25 g fresh yeast. I used 12,5 g fresh yeast to make this recipe which is equal to 3,5 g dry yeast (approx. 1 teaspoon). Please check your local brand and calculate your yeast needs accordingly. Also, check my ultimate yeast guide out for more information on how to handle yeast
- Milk: Use lukewarm temperature whole milk. Make sure your milk is definitely not cold as that would not work out too well with the yeast, but too warm milk can also destroy the yeast
- Egg: Room temperature as always, 1 egg + 1 yolk to keep the Babka extra moist and delicious
- Flour: Walnut Babka is effectively a sweet bread similar to French brioche bread or cinnamon roll. Make sure to use high protein content bread flour which contains more gluten and helps to achieve that lovely airy and chewy texture everyone loves. It might not be called bread flour in your country, so check the protein content and choose one that is higher. If you really can´t find bread flour, go with all purpose flour. If you want to be a Pro when it comes to deciding what type of flour to use in your baking, please read my flour guide
- Salt: An essential ingredient in most dessert recipes. Balances flavor and enhances other ingredients
- Filling: This Babka features a wonderful walnut filling. All you will need is walnuts that are toasted and coarsely chopped, butter, granulated or brown sugar, and optionally 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon or perhaps raisin if you fancy it. Chopped walnut can either be made in a food processor or by hand using a sharp knife. Of course, you can substitute it with other nuts eg. pecans, check my pecans vs walnuts article for more information.
- Syrup: Syrup makes this Walnut Babka shiny and even moister. I am using a combination of sugar, water, and lemon juice syrup that makes the Babka extra special and less sweet than soaking it with simple sugar syrup
🛒 You’ll find detailed measurements for all Ingredients in the printable version of the Recipe Card at the bottom of this post
👩🍳 How to make this recipe
1. How to activate the yeast
I know a lot of people are afraid of handling yeast, please don´t be scared! It is super easy if you follow some simple rules that are mainly related to temperature! Check my ultimate yeast guide out for more information on how to handle yeast!
The process is easy: heat ½ cup whole milk until lukewarm, mix half of the sugar in, then sprinkle yeast on top and wait 10 minutes until yeast starts to foam. The same process applies whether you are using fresh or dried yeast. The key here is that your milk is warm enough (lukewarm) but not too hot. Make sure that your kitchen is not too cold (above 20C / 68F). If yeast does not start bubbling after 10 minutes, chances are very low that the dough will rise. I recommend starting over again.
Please make sure that you start using the activated yeast after it foams. Leaving it on the kitchen counter for too long might result in yeast overflowing and eventually breaking.
💡 Top Tip: Follow the quantity of the yeast. Your Babka won´t get better or softer by adding more yeast! There is an exact science of adding leaving agents to baking products, and adding less or adding more is an equally bad choice.
2. How to knead the Babka dough
This Walnut babka is basically a sweet bread, therefore the process of making is similar to baking bread meaning you will need to knead the dough. This is a super easy Babka recipe, and this is the process of making it step-by-step:
- Once the yeast is foamy, place all the wet ingredients (the yeasty mixture + egg) into the bowl of your stand mixer along with the infused saffron
- Then, after mixing for a minute, add the dry ingredients (bread flour, rest of the sugar, salt) and start kneading with the help of the dough hook.
- First, it will look a bit messy, but after a few minutes, the dough will start to come together
- Then, add butter in very small portions piece by piece while the mixer is on
- Very important that butter is at room temperature and soft, but not too soft or liquid which would make it impossible to mix that into the dough. Butter might not get mixed in immediately but keep your Stand mixer on, and eventually, it will all come together
- Once the dough comes together, you will have to knead it for another approx. 10 minutes on medium-high speed up until the dough is super shiny, elastic, and achieves the gluten window! At this point, the dough should be soft, but not stick at all. If you are doing it by hand, it might take 20-30 minutes depending on how strong you knead the dough
💡 Top Tip: Even if the dough might look too sticky at the beginning, do not change this recipe and add a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I promise the dough will come together in the process of kneading and does not require more flour or milk etc.
3. How long does it take for the Babka to rise
There are two alternatives for rising the dough: quickly at room temp or slower in the fridge overnight. I tried both and can confirm that while the longer rise has the benefit of already working with a colder dough, the room temperature rise also works very well and provides wonderful results.
For the overnight version place the dough into a glass or plastic bowl, cover with plastic a wrap and leave it in the fridge for min 12 hours (overnight). The Overnight rise in the fridge not just makes the brioche texture fluffier and softer, but also makes your life easier when it comes to shaping and twisting the dough. With that, you will work with a cold dough that has extra gluten development, therefore, is easier to handle.
If you go for the room temperature quicker rise, place the dough into a glass or plastic bowl, cover with a kitchen towel and leave the dough at room temp for 1-2 hours. The exact time greatly depends on the temperature of your kitchen, try to find a warm spot but avoid direct heat. Once the dough doubles in size, punch the air out and start the rolling process as per below.
💡 Top Tip: Rising any yeast-based dough is a super delicate matter and there are two options as per above. Do not attempt to speed up the process in the oven, it would result in a dough that is over-risen and butter melting all over
4. How to fill and twist Babka
The filling and shaping process of your Cinnamon Walnut Babka happens after the dough had its first rise in the fridge overnight.
Have you ever had a disastrous experience shaping a soft babka dough that melts while the filling is all over the kitchen counter? Most recipes fail to explain one thing: the importance of TEMPERATURE! while shaping Babka.
- Prepare the cinnamon sugar walnut filling by melting butter then mixing it with cinnamon, sugar, and of course walnuts that are toasted and coarsely chopped. Add raisins if you like
- Chill the filling and make sure that you use it on room temperature. If mixture is warm, it would melt the dough. If mixture is cold, it would be impossible to spread it over the dough.
- Prepare your loaf tin and place parchment paper inside
- Roll the Babka dough on Silicone baking mat in that way you do not need to add flour while rolling. I suggest to roll it into a rectangle of 42x30 cm / 16x12 inches. Alternatively roll the dough out on lightly floured work surface
- Pop rolled out Babka dough into the freezer to chill for 3-5 minutes before filling
- Spread the cinnamon sugar walnut filling on the Babka dough evenly, and smooth it with an Offset spatula
- Pop the Babka back to the freezer again for 3-5 minute before rolling it up. You have to chill the dough so you will be able to roll it up neatly
- Roll the Babka up tightly and neatly from the longer end. Press to seal the end onto the roulade
- Pop the Babka back to the freezer for another 5 minutes to properly chill
- Now using a sharp knife, cut the Babka into half lengthwise. Try to cut it exactly in the middle of the roulade
- Check whether Babka filling is firm enough to proceed with shaping. If too runny, pop Babka again back to the freezer for a few minutes to chill
- Place Babka log over each other with filling facing up and twist the dough with your hands on both sides
- Gently squeeze together the ends and carefully lift Babka into a prepared loaf pan
- Now onto second proofing
💡 Top Tip: The most important part of the shaping process is always working with a dough that is cold enough. If during the shaping process the dough gets too warm, pop it back into the freezer for a few minutes
5. How to bake
First of all how not to bake this Walnut Babka? Never bake it without a second proofing!
With the second rise, the dough should almost double and it might take 1-2h depending on the temperature of your kitchen. Cover your Babka so it does not dry out (I place it into a zip bag), and place it into a warm spot in your house, yet not too hot as you also do not want the filling to melt.
During the end of the second rise pre-heat your oven to 190C / 374F (no fan), then once Babka dough nicely risen place it into the oven, lower the temp to 180C / 356F (no fan) and bake for about 40 minutes.
💡 Top Tip: Please make sure you invest into an inexpensive Digital oven thermometer to avoid under-baked or burnt Babka especially if you typically have trouble with your oven. Check the progress at 30 minutes and adjust the temperature and time, if needed. The Walnut Babka is ready when the toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
6. Secrets behind moist and shiny Babka
There is a moisturizing stage involved straight after baking, concretely you will have to pour some hot syrup over the Cinnamon Walnut Babka immediately after it is out of the oven.
The syrup I am using is a mixture of water, sugar, and lemon juice that balances the sweetness of the Babka without making it overly sweet. It gives the perfect shine while keeping the Babka extra moist and soft, you must try it!
💡 Top Tip: Let first the syrup sink in, and the Babka is slightly cool before removing it from the tin. I suggest moving it to a cooling rack when it is lukewarm so you won´t break it.
🥣 Equipment notes
First and foremost make sure you measure the ingredients with the help of a Digital scale.
For kneading the dough a Stand mixer is super handy with the dough hook on, however, if you are strong like my Mom you can attempt doing it by hand, good luck!
Rolling pin is totally necessary to roll the Babka dough out then for spreading the filling an Offset spatula is very handy as you want to make sure that the filling is spread evenly and neatly. If you want to be a Pro, use Silicone baking mat to roll the dough out in that case dough will certainly not stick and no need to use extra flour.
For baking the Babka you will need a Loaf pan, the quantity stated in the recipe makes a standard size 1 pound loaf tin that is 12x22cm / 5x8 inches. Make sure you place parchment paper inside so it will be easy to remove the baked Babka.
Yes, you can however high protein content bread flour will provide a better texture and flavor. Remember, Walnut babka is a sweet bread, you also would not make bread with cake flour, would you?
Technically you can. Once you finish kneading the babka dough in your mixer, instead of the overnight proof, you can proof the dough 1-2h at room temperature. Once dough doubles in size, knock the air out of it and continue with rolling, filling, shaping, second proofing then baking.
However, I strongly advise against quick proofing for a number of reasons: 1. depth of taste 2. the texture of the final baked product 3. it is much harder to roll and shape the room temperature dough
You should always use the yeast within the expiry date. Make sure that the temperature is correct for your yeast to get activated. Milk should be lukewarm, your kitchen should be also not too cold (above 20C / 68F). If yeast does not start bubbling after 10 minutes, chances are very low that the dough will rise at a later stage. I recommend not to waste the rest of the ingredients but start again with a new batch of yeast
It can be a combination of reasons: Either your yeast does not work, see point above. Or, the room temperature second proofing has not happened, or for not long enough. Perhaps the oven temperature was too low, or the ingredients are not measured accurately
Most probably yes, you can, however, you can´t just leave out / change one ingredient without reformulating the entire recipe. When one ingredient changes, some other ingredients need to be changed too in order to keep the balance in the texture and flavor. Sadly, I am not able to provide substitutes for all sorts of allergies and diets.
Yes, you can, however, you will need to adjust the ingredient quantities and baking time accordingly.
The Walnut Babka does not require a fridge, store it like you would store bread. In an air-tight container, it stays fresh for a few days, not that it ever lasts that long
You can easily freeze Babka in an air-tight container and enjoy it later whenever you feel like
🍞 Other Sweet Bread recipes
- 110 g (½ cups) Whole milk lukewarm
- 30 g (2 tablespoons) Granulated sugar
- 12,5 g Fresh yeast check my yeast guide to convert it to dry yeast
- 1 Egg yolk room temperature
- 1 Egg room temperature
- 250 g (2 cups) Bread flour high protein content flour
- ¼ teaspoon Salt
- 80 g (⅓ cups) Unsalted butter room temperature
Cinnamon Walnut filling
- 60 g (¼ cups) water
- 20 g (1 tablespoon) lemon juice freshly squeezed
- 80 g (½ cups) Granulated sugar
US customary cup measurement is an indicative figure only. Measure the ingredients with a digital scale by weight (gram). Baking is art but also science which requires precision and accuracy.
First day - first proofing
- Start with mixing half of the sugar with lukewarm milk then sprinkle yeast on top. Make sure kitchen is nice and warm, and in 10 minute yeast should foam
- Mix in dry ingredients; bread flour, rest of the sugar, salt and start kneading until dough comes together
- Slowly start to add in room temp (soft) butter chunks by piece. Knead the dough for another 10 minutes on medium high speed until dough becomes elastic and shiny and not sticky any longer
- Move the dough into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let it rest and rise in the fridge overnight for 12 hours
Make the Walnut filling
- Melt butter then mix with rest of the ingredients
- Let filling come to room temp before using it
- After the dough risen overnight, take the dough out of the fridge and let it rest on the kitchen counter for a few minutes, so it warmth a bit
- If dough gets warm, pop the Babka in and out of the freezer for a few minutes to chill between steps, make sure the dough is always cold enough to work with
- Spread walnut filling on top with the help of an Offset spatula. Roll Babka dough up evenly and tightly from the longer end then press to seal the end onto the roll
- Grease your Loaf pan with butter or use parchment paper inside
- Cut the Babka into half lengthwise, then place the logs over each other with filling facing up and twist the logs with your hands on both sides. Gently squeeze together the ends and carefully lift Babka into a prepared Loaf pan. Make sure the dough is nice and chilled during the process, pop it back to the freezer for a few minutes if necessary between steps
- Proof Babka the second time now on room temp. Proofing might take 1-2h, wait until Babka doubled in size.
- Pre-heat your oven to 190C / 374F then once Babka dough nicely risen place it into the oven, lower the temp to 180C / 356F and bake for about 40 minutes. Bake until skewer inserted comes out clean
- During the end of the baking time make the syrup: boil water, sugar and freshly squeezed lemon juice together until mixture reaches a syrup consistency. Pour hot syrup over baked Babka immediately
- Let the syrup sink in and the Babka slightly cool before removing it from the tin to a cooling rack
- Store in air-tight container in room temperature
- Use always unsalted butter in baking, in this Babka recipe butter needs to be on room temperature so soft enough to be able to knead into the dough
- Fresh or Dried yeast can be both used. My instant dried yeast pack says that 25g fresh yeast equal to 7 g dried. I use 12,5 g fresh yeast to make this recipe that is equal to 3,5 g dried yeast (approx. 1 teaspoon). Please check your local brand and calculate your yeast need accordingly
- Use milk and egg on room temperature in order for the ingredients to properly emulsify
- Since Babka is effectively a sweet bread use high protein content bread flour
- For activating the yeast (whether it is dried or fresh), make sure that the milk is lukewarm and your kitchen is also nice and warm
- You will knead the dough for about 10 minutes in a stand mixer. The dough is ready when it is shiny, elastic and does not stick to your fingers any longer. Do not add more flour to the dough. If it sticks too much, continue kneading
- Overnight proofing is recommended for the best results. It is much easier to handle (roll, shape) a dough that is risen in chilled environment
- Filling must come to room temp before using. Warm filling will would melt the dough immediately
- During the rolling, filling, shaping process try to work with chilled dough
- Second proofing is necessary for the perfect rise = fluffy texture
- Do not skip the syrup at the end. It will make your babka super shiny and moist